UAE Portrait of a Nation: Filipina finds success by sending home love
ABU DHABI // Luz Galvez still recalls the excitement of opening one of many large boxes filled with bars of bath soap, towels, blankets and groceries that had been sent to her in the Philippines by a relative abroad.
Her sister Carolyn, who had worked as a nanny for an Iraqi family since 1982, made sure everyone in the family, including the neighbours, had gifts for them in the box.
A year later, her brother Edmund worked for a company run by Carolyn’s employer and continued the Filipino tradition of sending care packages to the family.
Collecting the items and sending them home in a balikbayan (Tagalog for “returning to one’s homeland”) box – was seen as a way of easing the separation from their families for overseas Filipino workers. In 1988, at the age of 23, Ms Galvez decided to leave her home in Baybay City in Leyte, Philippines, to work for a family in Abu Dhabi.
She served as a nanny and private nurse for the Iraqi couple’s newborn son.
“I would tag along with them whenever they travelled to the UK, Canada and the US,” said Ms Galvez, 52.
“I had grown to love my job and did not think of changing careers during those eight years.”
In 1992, she applied for a nursing job at Dar Al Shifaa Hospital, where she ended up working for five years.
“I got to interact with a lot of Emirati patients who were kind and treated me and other nurses with respect,” Ms Galvez said.
“I learnt how to converse in Arabic and made sure they were well taken care of.”
One of the hospital’s patients, an owner of a group of companies, convinced her to work for him and so she decided to change career paths.
She worked as a senior counter staff at the foreign exchange and cargo company, a position she held for 14 years.
Despite a shake-up in the business, she was retained and went on to become the vice-president of Smart Exchange. While employment offered a more secure income, Ms Galvez felt it was time to start her own business.
She and a former colleague, Jishar TC, set up Luzan Express Cargo in June 2011, which now has two offices in Abu Dhabi, one in Al Ain and one in Dubai.
The pair ventured into other businesses, and now own two bakery shops, a laundry shop and a ladies salon.
“For our cargo business, we started out with one counter staff and a driver,” Ms Galvez said. “Now, we’ve got 16 drivers and eight staff members at our offices.”
Her elder sister and brother in Abu Dhabi have since returned to the Philippines for good, leaving her to keep up the tradition of sending the boxes home.
“I think the whole idea behind a balikbayan box is to show one’s unwavering love for the families left behind,” Ms Galvez said.
“It has helped bring our family closer for the past 34 years.”
As a business owner, she wants to make a difference by giving back to the community.
“It feels good to make a significant contribution to my countrymen,” she said.
When a deadly earthquake hit Bohol and Cebu in October 2013, she and her team shipped boxes of relief goods to the Philippines. The following month her province, Leyte, was hit by Typhoon Haiyan.
Members of the Filipino community, including Luzan -Express Cargo, stepped up relief efforts and mobilised aid for the typhoon victims.
She and some team members had flown to Tacloban, Leyte to distribute relief goods to thousands of residents.
“We also offered free shipping of boxes of relief goods to UAE residents whose families were affected by the armed conflict in Zamboanga in September 2013, the Bohol quake and Typhoon Yolanda,” she said.